Elon Faculty with Expertise in Religion
The Elon Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Society seeks to foster research, teaching, and dialogue that informs community knowledge and action. The following are Elon faculty who explore the intersections of religion, culture, and society in their scholarly research and who are willing to serve as mentors to student research projects or as community educational resources through speaking engagements and special events.
Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Multifaith Scholars Program
Dr. Allocco’s research focuses on contemporary Hinduism, including goddess traditions, snake worship, and healing practices, in the state of Tamil Nadu in South India, where she has been studying and conducting fieldwork for more than 20 years. She is an ethnographer who specializes in performance and ritual studies, with a particular interest in gender and religion.
- She is the co-editor (with Brian K. Pennington), of Ritual Innovation: Strategic Interventions in South Asian Religion (SUNY 2018) and is completing a single-authored manuscript titled Snake Goddesses and Anthills: Modern Challenges and Women’s Ritual Responses in Contemporary South India. She has recently completed the ethnographic fieldwork for a new project, Domesticating the Dead: Invitation and Installation Rituals in Tamil South India, which examines ongoing ritual relationships with deceased kin, who are worshiped as family deities. Her article about the ritual authority of a female Hindu healer in the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion (2013) earned the Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza New Scholar Award and she has also published on ethnographic research and writing in Method & Theory in the Study of Religion (2009).
- Dr. Allocco is the 2012 recipient of the Elon College of Arts and Science’s Excellence Teaching Award and previously held the University’s Distinguished Emerging Scholar professorship in Religious Studies. She was recently named Director of Elon’s new Multifaith Scholars Program.
Assistant Professor of Dance
Dr. Avaunt’s research interests include ritual performance, critical dance theory, Asian and Asian-American dance history, and the role of culture and gender in the production of choreography. As a dance choreographer, she currently studies the lion dance within Asian diasporic communities, focusing specifically on women who perform this historically male-dominated ritual practice.
- In addition to presenting her scholarship at national and international conferences, Dr. Avaunt is an award-winning choreographer who is committed to responsible cross-cultural exchanges and innovative choreographic partnerships that span domestically and internationally.
- Avaunt has been the recipient of a Mellon Foundation award; a National Scholarship from the Taiwan Ministry of Education; a Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellowship from the University of California, Riverside; a Princeton in Beijing Scholarship, and three Maxwell H. Gluck Foundation Fellowships in the Arts. She currently serves as Vice President of the Association for Asian Performance (AAP).
Chair and Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Lori and Eric Sklut Scholar in Jewish Studies
Dr. Claussen’s scholarship focuses on Jewish ethics and theology. He is particularly interested in questions of love and justice, war and violence, animal ethics, moral education, and the legacy of the 19th century Musar movement.
- He is the author of Sharing the Burden: Rabbi Simhah Zissel Ziv and the Path of Musar (SUNY Press, 2015) and Modern Musar: Contested Virtues in Jewish Thought (University of Nebraska Press/The Jewish Publication Society, 2022). His recent publications have included “Musar and Jewish Veganism” (in Jewish Veganism and Vegetarianism, ed. Jacob Labendz and Shmuly Yanklowitz, SUNY Press, 2019) and “The Exodus and Some Possibilities of Jewish Political Thought” (with Emily Filler, in T&T Clark Handbook of Political Theology, ed. Rodriguez, T&T Clark, 2019).
- Dr. Claussen is a past president of the Society of Jewish Ethics, was the founding director of Elon’s Program in Jewish Studies, and is the chair of Elon’s Department of Religious Studies.
Professor of Spanish in the Department of World Languages and Cultures
Born in Málaga, Spain, Garcia-Soormally earned a bachelor’s degree in English philology and a doctorate in Spanish philology from the Universidad de Málaga. She holds a doctorate in Spanish language and literature and a master’s in Spanish and Latin American literature from Duke University. Mina Garcia examines what historic Spanish texts can teach us about how we define our identity. Her research interests include the role of literature in the expansion of the Spanish empire, Early Modern Spanish literature, transatlantic studies, Latin American colonial culture and literature, the relation between society and superstition in the early modern period, and the spiritual and territorial conquest of the Americas, especially colonial Mexico. Current writing projects include:
- Dr. Garcia-Soormally’s most recent monograph on transatlantic studies is titled Idolatry and the Construction of the Spanish Empire (University Press of Colorado, 2018)
- Other publications include Magia, hechiceria y brujeria: Entre La Celestina y Cervantes (Magic, Sorcery and Witchcraft: Between La Celestina and Cervantes), focusing on the Spain of the 16th and 17th centuries (Renacimiento 2011), “Mujeres endemoniadas en escena: Claramonte y Lope.” Brujería, magia y otros prodigios en la literatura española del Siglo de Oro. Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes. Ed. María Luisa Lobato, Javier San José and Germán Vega (2016): 121-39; “La conversión como experimento de colonización: De Fray Hernando de Talavera a La Conquista de Jerusalén.” Modern Languages Notes, 128,2 (2013): 225-44; and “El cuerpo sin marca en el Tuzaní de la Alpujarra.” Bulletin of the Comediantes, 64, 1 (2012): 111-29.
Evan A. Gatti
Professor of Art History
Dr. Gatti’s field of research is in the field of medieval studies.Her writing is focused on the art and culture of medieval bishops and especially the relationships between material, performance, the texts of the Mass. Gatti is often asked to talk about the art and architecture of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and has studied and traveled extensively through central and northern Italy.
- Gatti recently co-authored an annotated bibliography on Medieval Italian Art for Oxford Bibliographies and was co-editor of an interdisciplinary collection of essays entitled Envisioning the Medieval Bishop: Images and the Episcopacy in the Middle Ages (Turnhout: 2014). She has authored several essays on the art and culture of medieval bishops, including a contribution to Envisioning the Bishop, Saintly Bishops and Bishops Saints (Zagreb: 2012), as well as a special issue of Peregrinations devoted to Ottonian art for use in the undergraduate classroom. Gatti has presented papers nationally and internationally on the relationships between ritual, performance, pilgrimage and art in a religious context.
- In 2009, Gatti received the Elon College Excellence in Service/Leadership award and in 2012, Gatti received the Student Government Association’s Gerald F. Francis Award for Outstanding Faculty Member.
Professor of Communications
Dr. Hatcher is a former journalist who teaches a Religion and Media class (COM 333) at Elon University on an annual basis. Hatcher has written about religion news coverage for The Scoop blog at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California, and he is a contributor on cultural issues such as gay marriage and atheism to the op-ed pages of area newspapers. His research focuses on the intersection of religion and popular culture, as well as religion and the news media
- Hatcher’s has written recently on gay marriage, including an op-ed titled “’Evolution’ on Homosexuality Can Take Time” which was published by a number of North Carolina papers and he has written about the “culture wars” for Trans/Missions, a blog on media, culture, religion, and society sponsored by the University of Southern California.
- Hatcher is the author of Religion and Media in America (2018), which explore how Christianity both adapts to and is affected by new media forms. The book opens with an examination of the Rev. Dr. William Barber II and Moral Mondays, a religiously fueled civil rights protest movement. Religious entertainment, Bible marketing, and satire are all examined in this volume.
- A sampling of Hatcher’s published essays on religious themes includes “Church brings legacy of fights for equality to marriage ban,” a piece on United Church of Christ activism, and a Huffington Post essay, “Religious Satire Can Be a Positive Thing.” The piece was a response to the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris.
Lynn R. Huber
Maude Sharpe Powell Professor of Religious Studies
Professor Huber’s scholarship focuses upon the Book of Revelation,
including its artistic representation, and gender and sexuality in early Christianity. She is interested in how Christian texts challenge Roman valorizations of family and how these might inform contemporary perspectives on the inclusion of LGBTQ individuals in Christian contexts and society in general.
- Dr. Huber speaks and teaches in church settings about the Bible and homosexuality, advocating for interpreting the texts in ways that are inclusive and liberatory for LGBTQ individuals, and has led multi-session studies on interpreting the New Testament and on the Book of Revelation.
- Huber’s most recent publications include a forthcoming book titled Thinking with Women in Revelation: Gender, Metaphor, and Community (T and T Clark); “Satan,” in Oxford Bibliographies Online: Biblical Studies (Oxford University Press, 2011); “Gazing at the Whore: Reading Revelation Queerly” in Bible Trouble: Queer Readings at the Boundaries of Biblical Scholarship, Teresa Hornsby and Ken Stone, eds. (Society of Biblical Literature, 2011).
Associate Professor of Political Science, Director of the Elon Poll
Dr. Husser studies American political behavior with an emphasis on religion’s role in political polarization. He also researches survey methodology. He completed a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University in 2012.
- Recent publications by Husser include “How Trust Matters: The Changing Political Relevance of Political Trust” with Marc J. Hetherington in American Journal of Political Science (2012); and “Plus Ça Change: Race, Gender, and Issue Retrospections in the 2008 U.S. Election” with Christian R. Grose and Antoine Yoshinaka in Journal of Elections, Public Opinion, and Parties (2010).
- Dr. Husser has presented on “Polarized Churches: The Political Sorting of American Religious Behavior” in a variety of contexts.
William J. Story Sr. Professor of History
Dr. Irons reexamines in his current research the process through which black Southerners withdrew from white-controlled churches following the American Civil War and, more centrally, of the changes white southerners made to Protestant belief and ecclesiology as a result. He is completing a book on the topic tentatively entitled, Reconstruction and the Making of White Evangelicalism.
- Irons’s recent publications include: “Urban Black Protestants and the Predicament of Emancipation,” in Reconstruction and the Arc of Racial (In)Justice, Al Goethals and Julian Hayter, eds. (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2018); “Evangelical Geographies of North Carolina,” in New Voyages to North Carolina, Larry Tise and Jeffrey Crowe, eds. (University of North Carolina Press, 2017); and “Religion and the ‘Outsider’ Candidates,” in Faith and the New Millennium: The Future of Religion and American Politics, Matthew Avery Sutton and Darren Dochuk, eds. (Oxford University Press, 2016). His first book, The Origins of Proslavery Christianity: White and Black Evangelicals in Colonial and Antebellum Virginia, appeared in 2008 with the University of North Carolina Press.
- Irons has appreciated the opportunity to discuss ongoing racial divisions within United States churches with both lay and religious constituencies.
Waseem bin Kasim
Assistant Professor of History
Dr. Kasim is a historian of twentieth-century Africa. He received a Ph.D. in 2019 at Washington University in St. Louis. To date, his research has been examining how Africans came to terms with colonial rule and the postcolonial evolution as well as ways in which Africans navigated the challenges and opportunities in the eras. While converting his Ph.D. dissertation into a manuscript, Dr. Kasim is exploring ways to publish his M.Phil. research on Islam and a Muslim society in West Africa.
- Dr. Kasim’s Ph.D. research entitled “Sanitary Segregation: Cleansing Accra and Nairobi 1908 to 1963” examines how sanitation shaped city planning, designing, and development in two British colonial capital cities. A comparative project, “Sanitary Segregation” demonstrates the ways state officials, experts, and Africans from various walks of life responded to the constraints of the physical development of Accra (Ghana) and Nairobi (Kenya).
- His M.Phil. research at the University of Ghana examines how and why Muslims in Northwestern Ghana selected and used particular Islamic practices, idioms, and beliefs to express their identity. The project demonstrates the ways in which twentieth-century events hardened Islamic modes of self-expression. It analyzes archival material as well as oral traditions and histories about Wa and the Waala (in the Upper West Region of Ghana) some of which are songs, proverbs, family stories, and local jokes. He conducted the oral interviews in Waalii, which is his first language. The sources provide answers to the question: what does it mean to be a Muslim in a specific place and moment?
- Dr. Kasim envisions a book project situated at the intersection of three bodies of scholarly inquiry: Islam and Muslims, Sanitation (or the Environment) and urbanism.
Professor of Psychology
A community health psychologist trained in applied psychological development, Longmire-Avital’s research interests explores how the experience of intersecting social identities influences the health behaviors and access to health information of minority populations, specifically Black American emerging adults. Dr. Longmire-Avital has previously examined the relationship between religiosity, resiliency, and HIV risk behaviors for Black Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual emerging adults and transgender women.
- One of her current research endeavors is exploring of conversations and messages minority mothers give their emerging adult and adolescent daughters about how to cope with minority status stress. This research actively engages the role religion may play in shaping the socialization of stress coping behaviors.
- Some of Dr. Longmire-Avital’s recent publications include “’Deep like the sea and strong like the earth’: Exploring the ideal partner characteristics of emerging adult heterosexual Black women” in the Journal of Black Psychology (2015), “The Impact of religious faith and internalized homonegativity on resiliency for Black, Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual emerging adults” (Developmental Psychology, 2013), and “Exploring the Interaction between Religiosity, Social Support & Stress-Related Growth among Transgender Women” (Journal of Health Psychology, 2010).
Associate Professor of Religious Studies
Dr. Ariela Marcus-Sells is a professor of Religious Studies at Elon University. She graduated with a PhD in Religious Studies and Islamic Studies from Stanford University in 2015. Her research focuses on Sufi intellectual history, the history of Muslim societies in West Africa, and the relationship between the categories of Religion, Magic, and Science.
Associate Professor of Geography
Dr. Marshall is a Human Geographer who specializes in the political and cultural geography of the Middle East, with particular attention to children and youth affected by conflict and forced migration. His research examines issues of trauma, memory, gender, and religion in relation to the lives, spaces, and mobility of Palestinian refugee children in the West Bank. Working in the deeply divided societies of Lebanon, Bosnia-and-Herzegovina, and Cyprus, his work has also examined the ways in which young people re-imagine belonging in the wake of ethnic and sectarian conflict. His most recent research investigates inter-generational memory of shared/contested holy sites in the West Bank. In addition to his research in the Middle East, Dr. Marshall is also involved in ongoing research projects related to Muslim migrants and refugees in the US and Muslim youth in the West more broadly.
Drawing on his research in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dr. Marshall recently published an article entitled “Why are ‘we’ called ‘them’?: Storytelling and the contested terrain of post-conflict public formation” with coauthors Lynn A Staeheli and Vanja Čelebičić in Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. A full list of his publications is available on his Google Scholar page.
In addition to Dr. Marshall’s service to the Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Society at Elon, he also serves as a board member on the Geography of Religions and Belief Systems (GORABS) Specialty Group at the Association of American Geographers (AAG).
Kristina A. Meinking
Associate Professor of Latin and Classical Studies
Dr. Meinking’s research focuses on the worlds of classical and late antiquity, and primarily concerns intersections between religion, politics, and intellectual culture in the third and fourth centuries CE. Her doctoral dissertation examined De ira Dei (’On the Anger of God’), a treatise by the fourth-century Christian intellectual Lactantius. She is also interested in Roman topography and Latin pedagogy.
- Dr. Meinking is currently revising her manuscript for her first monograph, tentatively titled The Rhetoric of Anger: Lactantius and the Shaping of Christian Intellectual Discourse. She completed her translation of the text (from Latin into English) in the summer of 2012.
- In addition to numerous conferences and presentations in the fields of both Classics and Religion, Meinking’s scholarly activity includes two forthcoming articles: one examines the relationship between De ira Dei and Constantine’s actions regarding the Donatists, and the other draws on Lactantius’ arguments in the treatise to problematize existing opinions about the relationship of Greek philosophy, particularly Platonism, to early fourth century proto-orthodox Christianity.
Assistant Professor of Religious Studies
Professor Monteith specializes in American religion with a focus on secularism and various forms of social power. The courses that he teaches include: Religion and Power, Religion and War in America, Irreligious and Secular Traditions, Religion and American Popular Culture, and Christian Traditions.
- Monteith has published on psychedelic religious substance use in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion and is currently working on a book analyzing the relationship between Protestant eschatology, American colonialism, and the early stages of the US Drug War (1875-1940).
Rebecca Todd Peters
Professor of Religious Studies
Dr. Peters is a feminist social ethicist and is particularly interested in the role that Christianity has played in shaping public conversations about contemporary social problems. Her research interests include globalization, economic, and environmental ethics; sexuality issues and reproductive justice. She is an ordained PCUSA minister and represents the PCUSA as a member of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches.
- Peters’ most recent book, Trust Women: A Progressive Christian Argument for Reproductive Justice (Beacon, 2018), argues that there is a dominant framework of justification that shapes contemporary abortion debates and that this framework distorts our ability to have a healthy and productive public conversation about the moral issues associated with pregnancy, child-bearing, and parenting in this country. Peters develops Reproductive Justice as a more robust ethical framework for discussing these issues.
- As a public focused on contemporary social ethical questions, Peters currently serves as a Fellow with the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI); serves on the Advisory Committee of EnFaith, a project of the Center for Reproductive Health Research in the SouthEast (RISE) at Emory; maintains a blog To Do Justice, hosted on the Patheos website; and is often invited to give lectures and addresses, nationally and internationally, on issues of reproductive justice, poverty, solidarity, globalization, and Christian ethical perspectives on economics and social justice.
Brian K. Pennington
Director of the Center for the Study of Religion, Culture and Society and Professor of Religious Studies
Dr. Brian K. Pennington is a scholar of modern
Hinduism. His primary research interests are in colonial-era religion in India, the history of religion in South Asia, religion and violence, and contemporary religious change in India.
- Pennington is the author of Was Hinduism Invented?: Britons, Indians, and the Colonial Construction of Religion (Oxford UP 2004/2007), editor of Teaching Religion and Violence (Oxford UP 2012), and co-editor, with Amy L. Allocco of Ritual Innovation: Strategic Interventions in South Asian Religion (SUNY Press, 2018). His current book in progress, entitled God’s Fifth Abode: Entrepreneurial Hinduism in the Indian Himalayas, is based on over a decade of field research in the pilgrimage city of Uttarkashi.
- He has served on the Board of Directors of the American Academy of Religion (AAR), including its Executive Committee, and the Board of Directors of the Society for Hindu-Christian Studies. He is Past President of the American Academy of Religion, Southeast Region and is the current Chair of the Advisory Council for the Conference on the Study of Religions of India (CSRI).
Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies
Professor Russell’s work is in the field of religion and culture. His writing explores the intersections between evangelical Christianity and NASCAR and the religious inspirations and impulses in modern music, including hip hop, the blues, and rock and roll.
- Professor Russell’s most recent research includes a manuscript under development titled Into the Mystic: Religion and Rock & Roll and Godspeed: Racing Is My Religion (Continuum, 2007). He is also writing on the pedagogical use of music in the classroom and the role of hip hop in the northern African revolutions known as the Arab spring.
- Russell is often asked to speak on world religions, including death and the afterlife across traditions, and he has served as a faculty guide for service/ spiritual retreats to Taize, France and to Turtle Island, N.C.
Associate Professor of Management
Dr. Singh’s research examines the influence of work and non-work (e.g., family and community) factors on employee outcomes, such as performance (in-role and extra-role), organizational attachment, well-being, and turnover intentions. In the examination of the above relationships, he uses religiosity and spirituality as important boundary conditions. Dr. Singh’s research conceptualizes religiosity and spirituality as personal resources that help to buffer individuals against work and non-work demands and mitigate their negative influence on employee attitudes and work behaviors. Dr. Singh’s teaching interests include Organizational Behavior (OB), Human Resource Management (HRM), and Business Ethics. Dr. Singh has taught several courses to both undergraduate and graduate classes.
- Dr. Singh recently published his research in Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, which examines the role of religiosity and spirituality in coping with demands of work–family lives. The study found that, while spirituality has a positive influence and attenuates the negative relationship between work (and family) demands on work-family conflict; religiosity, on the contrary, can have both positive and negative influences. In other words, high levels of religiosity can further exacerbate the job-demand and work-to-family conflict relationship. The entire paper can be accessed here.
- Dr. Singh has also presented his research at international conferences, such as the Academy of Management Annual Conference. Dr. Singh is also an active member of the Management Spirituality and Religion division of the Academy of Management and regularly reviews for this division.
Associate Professor of History
Professor Sinn is a historian of modern Germany with specialties in Jewish history deeply engaged in debates concerning the Third Reich and the immediate post-Holocaust period. At Elon, Professor Sinn teaches a variety of courses in modern German and Jewish history, including a course on Fascism and Propaganda and The History of the Holocaust.
Professor of Anthropology
Dr. Rissa Trachman is Associate Professor of anthropology and Chair of the Sociology and Anthropology Department at Elon University, Elon, North Carolina. She specializes in Maya archaeology and has been conducting archaeology field work in Belize since 1997. She has been co-organizing field schools in Belize with the University of Texas since 2001, and began leading a field school through Elon in summer 2009. She is currently conducting field research at the site of Dos Hombres in Belize, the project in which field school students will be participating. Her research interests also include topics such as household archaeology, ancient social organization, lithic technology, gender and archaeology, ancient childhood, and ancient water management.
Pamela D. Winfield
Professor of Religious Studies
Dr. Winfield is a scholar of Buddhist studies whose research and teaching focus on the intersection of religion and visual/material culture in East Asia. Fields of interest include Japanese Buddhism, East Asian religions, Zen, Tantric Buddhism, religious experience, sacred space, religious healing, and church-state relations in Japan and China.
- Winfield is the author of Icons and Iconoclasm in Japanese
Buddhism: Kukai and Dogen on the Art of Enlightenment (Oxford University Press, 2013; Association of Asian Studies – Southeast Conference book prize 2015). She is also the co-editor (with Steven Heine) of Zen and Material Culture (Oxford University Press, 2017), and has edited specially-themed issues of CrossCurrents journal on Religion and Sex/ualities (2020), New Religious Movements (2014) and Religion in Asia Today (2011). Other recent publications include: “Shinnyo-en and the Formulation of a New Esoteric Iconography” in Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art, and Belief (2019) and “The Philosophy of the Mandala” in The Dao Companion to Japanese Buddhist Philosophy (Springer Press, 2019).
- Dr. Winfield is the President of the Society for the Study of Japanese Religions (SSJR), Co-chair of the Arts, Literature and Religion Unit within the American Academy of Religion (AAR), and Vice-President of the Association of Religion and Intellectual Life (ARIL). Her research has been funded by the Association of Asian Studies, the American Academy of Religion, and the Asian Cultural Council, among others.